Elizabeth Felton was born on December 18, 1676 the only daughter of Betty and Sir Thomas Felton. One cannot help but wonder what Elizabeth Felton’s childhood was like. She was probably well provided for – never short of a new gown or two – but with a mother like Betty Felton, lewd and pocky, according to a popular 17th century verse – well, what an example to set a young girl.
The eighteen year old heiress married John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol, at Boxted Church, Suffolk on July 25, 1695, becoming his second wife. Whig MP for Bury St Edmunds from 1694 – 1703, John Hervey was a lover of bloodstock breeding and horse matches and his Suffolk home was suitably close to that hub of horse racing, Newmarket. Yet, despite their incompatibility - she like town, he liked country – theirs was a devoted marriage.
When he was away from home they sent each other love letters by each post. He addresses Elizabeth as ‘My ever new Delight’ while she calls him ‘My dear dear life.’ In a letter dated December 30, 1696 she adds a PS ‘The children are all well. I beg your pardon for forgetting them last time; but you’ll forgive it when I tell you the thoughts of you would leave no room for anything else.’
The children were John’s family by his first wife Isabella, a son Carr and two daughters Catherine and Isabella. Elizabeth’s first child, John was born in the first year of her marriage and like most high born 18th century women, Elizabeth was pretty much permanently pregnant for the next 18 years She would have a further 16 children plus a set of triplets born in 1701 that did not survive and a still born son in 1704. In 1699 she had two babies within 12 months – Thomas was born on January 20 and William on December 25. James Porter Hervey died in 1706 barely two months old. Humphrey Hervey born in 1708 died young and Felton born in 1710 died at 13 days old while James was just 14 months old when he died in 1714.
Her six daughters fared slightly better, although Henrietta died aged nine years old and her same named sister at sixteen. Barbara was 27 when she died and eldest daughter Elizabeth made it to 29. Louisa, wife of Sir Robert Smyth, was 55 when she died and Anne made it to her 64th birthday.
In 1718 aged 42, her child bearing years over, Elizabeth was one of six Ladies of the Bedchamber appointed to Princess Caroline of Ansbach who later became the Queen Consort of George II. Elizabeth continued in this role until the Queen’s death in 1737.
Elizabeth’s six page will, written in December 1740, contains considerable detail concerning her home in Bury St Edmunds. She leaves the house and all the plate, goods, pictures, china and furniture for the use of her husband and following his death, to their youngest son Felton.
At the time she wrote her will, Elizabeth had outlived ten of her children. Her eldest son was to act as trustee for her property and she leaves him ’my cabinet chest large screen and small screen being white Japan of my own work in confidence that he will preserve them for my sake.’
To her unmarried daughter Lady Ann she leaves ‘my gilt Etoilet and all the furniture and things thereunto belong and also ‘that Snuff Box with her father’s picture in it.’
To her other surviving daughter Lady Louisa Caroline Isabella Smyth she leaves ‘my Ring with my Lord’s picture and another Ring set with the late Queen’s hair as also the said Queen’s picture now in my house at Bury.’
She leaves a large emerald ring to her husband which she asks that he wear ‘for my sake’ and the rest of her jewellery and Rings she leaves ‘unto my Trustees and Executors to sell and dispose of.’
She leaves instructions that her granddaughter Elizabeth Hervey, eldest daughter of her son Henry, should be placed under the care and supervision of Sir John and she bequeaths her £1,000 when she attains the age of 21 years, or when she gets married.
One last bequest, Elizabeth wants her maiden name of Felton to be added to the names of her sons and grandsons in remembrance of her family.
Elizabeth died on May 1, 1841 being seized with a fit as she was in St James’ Park in her sedan chair. She was buried in the Hervey family vault at St Mary’s Church, Ickworth, Suffolk.
And for those readers wondering how Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol is connected to the St John family at Lydiard House – her maternal grandmother was Barbara Villiers, the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John.